Our View: Your business ruined, but you can't sue
Imagine that you are a farmer who grows certified organic corn and soybeans, which are fed to milk cows to produce organic milk that's sold to grocery stores and farmers markets. It's a labor-intensive enterprise that offers profits and non-monetary rewards from knowing that you are producing food for a specific segment of the population.
Disaster strikes when the genetically modified grain grown in a neighbor's field cross-contaminates your crop. The market you depend on is lost and your reputation sullied. The cross-contamination was accidental — GMO seed was carried from one field to the next by birds, rodents or insects.
What is your legal recourse?
There is none.
Monsanto, the multinational corporation that owns patents on GMO products, has been aggressive in protecting its seed patent rights. It has sued several farmers who planted their seeds without permission. Since your crop contains GMO genes, they could sue you for accidentally using their technology without permission.
The issue of accidental GMO contamination motivated a group of organic farmers, non-GMO users and seed suppliers to bring a lawsuit against Monsanto in New York court. The plaintiffs lost the case and appealed to the three-person Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The judges ruled that the plaintiffs had no right to sue.
The reasoning the judges used to make their decision is a head-scratcher. The judges ruled the plaintiffs can't file suit against Monsanto over possible GMO contamination "because Monsanto has made binding assurances that it will not take legal action against growers whose crops might inadvertently contain traces of Monsanto biotech genes.''
Never mind that your business is ruined — you can't sue for losses because Monsanto has agreed not to sue you for the problems its products caused.
It's pretzel logic at best and an example of cow-towing to a mammoth corporation.
Monsanto has been in the news a lot lately. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld its GMO patent rights in a court case involving an Indiana farmer who planted Monsanto soybeans without permission. Earlier this month, GMO wheat was found in an Oregon field. The wheat was part of a Monsanto research effort that ended a decade ago when the U.S. government refused to approve the product for commercial use. The denial, in part, came about because European Union nations refused to allow GMO wheat imports. That decision meant U.S. wheat producers would lose a large and lucrative market. The recent discovery is at best upsetting to foreign buyers.
The plaintiffs in the lost case say they gained some ground, even while losing some.
"We're encouraged by the court's determination that Monsanto does not have the right to sue farmers for trace contamination,'' said Jim Gerritsen, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. "However, the farmers went to court seeking justice not only about contamination, but also the larger question of the validity of Monsanto's patents. Justice has not been served.''
Indeed, it has not.